Guru – Dispels the darkness of ignorance ('gu'), and brings enlightenment and vision ('ru'). A Guru is a spiritual guide, teacher and en-lightener; a person who leads us away from the darkness of spiritual ignorance and towards enlightenment of reality - a vision of God; a roadmap of nature or the laws of the Universe.
It is the application of the formula to make our life excellently balanced, in-tune and successful; to bring vision, realisation and spiritual awareness in our minds and to move us away from selfishness and limitedness in our behaviour and in our attitudes. The spiritual master/teacher, the Guru brings awareness of reality into our vision and releases us from the shackles of emotions, entrapments and attachments; the Guru elevates us from our materialist and emotional entrapments to what appears around us.
As adapted from article By Wazir Singh
A Guru is a teacher or enlightener who brings his followers (devotees) from darkness to light. Guru is an idea or and institution, not a person. However, a person can attain this level of clarity of reality. The GURU, is a spiritual guide or preceptor. The term, long used in the Indian religious tradition, has a special connotation in the Sikh system. The Sikh faith itself signifies discipleship, the word 'sikh' (sisya in Sanskrit and sissa or sekha in Pali) means pupil or learner. The concept of Guru, the teacher or enlightener who guides his/its devotees (Sikhs), is thus central to Sikhism. The Guru, according to Sikh belief, is the vital link in man’s spiritual progress.
Not an Avatar or God’s incarnation
He is the teacher who shows the way. He is not an intercessor, but an exemplar and guide. He is no avatar or God’s incarnation, but it is through him that God instructs men. He is the perfectly realized soul; at the same time, he is capable of leading the believers to the highest state of spiritual enlightenment.
The Guru has been called the ladder or the rowboat by means of which one reaches God. He is the revealer of God’s word. Through him God’s word, sabda, enters human history. The Guru is the voice of God, the Divine self-revelation. Man turns to the Guru for instruction because of his wisdom and his moral piety. He indicates the path to liberation.
It is the Guru who brings the love and nature of God to the believer. It is he who brings that grace of God by which haumai or egoity is mastered. The Guru is witness to God’s love of His creation. He is God’s hukam, i.e. Will, made concrete.
Guruship - the one candle lights the next
A special figure is employed to describe the transference of the Guruship in the Sikh tradition. This figure helps us understand the true nature of Guru. The Guruship passes from one Guru to the other as one candle lights another.
Thus the real Guru is God, for He is the source of all light. It is clear that the Guru is not to be confused with the human form (the unlit body). In the Sikh faith which originated in Guru Nanak’s revelation, Ten Gurus held the office.
In Sikhism the word Guru is used only for the ten spiritual prophets — Guru Nanak to Guru Gobind Singh, and for none other. Now this office of Guru is fulfilled by the Guru Granth Sahib, the Sacred Book, which was so apotheosized by Guru Gobind Singh.
Definition of the word 'Guru'
Various connotations of guru have been given based on different etymological interpretations. The one generally accepted in Sikhism is that derived from the syllable 'gu' standing for darkness and ru (light) for the removal of darkness. Thus guru is he who banishes the darkness of ignorance. According to Sikh belief, guidance of the guru is essential for one’s spiritual enlightenment.
No particular text dealing with the concept of guru is found in the Sikh Scripture, though scattered references abound. They are often figurative and symbolic but are fully expressive of the pre-eminence accorded to the guru.
He is called by many names
He has been called a tirtha, a place of holy pilgrimage, i.e. purifier; a khevat, the boatman who rows one across the ocean of worldliness; a sarovar, a lake where swans, i.e. holy saints, dwell and pick up pearls of sacred wisdom for food; a 'samund', ocean which is churned for the gems, for his bani, or inspired word, is itself deep like the ocean and its wisdom can be brought out only after long meditation; a dipak, lamp which lights up the three worlds. In another comparison the Guru is called pilak, an elephant controller, as he restrains the mind that is like a mad, romping elephant.
He is called data, donor of wisdom; amritsar, the pool of ambrosia of the Name; a basith, one joining the seeker in union with God; joti, the light which illuminates the world. Other comparisons are anjan, collyrium, which sharpens the sight— a metaphor for the spiritual vision; sahjai da khet, the field of equipoise or equanimity; paharua, the watchman who drives away the five thieves, i.e. the five evils.
He is sura, the hero whose sword of jnana or knowledge rends the veil of darkness and overcomes ignorance and wickedness, paras, philosopher’s stone which turns base metals into gold, for he transforms ordinary men into holy saints. There are numerous more comparisons.
The Guru's composition
The first stanza of Bhavan Akhari, one of Guru Arjan’s compositions in the Guru Granth Sahib, is a paean of glorification in honour of the Guru (Gurudev) in exalted classical style. Gurudev, i.e. the divinely inspired Master, is the mother, father; he is the Master and the Lord Supreme. He is friend, relative, brother.
He confers on the seeker the name of the Supreme Being, i.e. the mantra, which is infallible. Gurudev is the touchstone which surpasses all paras. Gurudev is sacred tirath of the ambrosia of immortality, a bath wherein is a bath in jnana. Gurudev is the banisher of sins; he makes the impure pure.
Gurudev has existed from beginning of the beginning, from the beginning of the ages and has lasted through all the yugas; i.e. his light is eternal. His teachings of the Name alone can save humanity (GG, 250).
Spiritual gain difficult without the guru’s guidance
The guidance of the guru is absolutely essential; no spiritual gain can accrue without the guru’s guidance. The view has been constantly reiterated in the Guru Granth Sahib:
|Were there to rise a hundred moons, and a thousand suns besides,
Without the guru, it will still be pitch darkness
|None other than the guru can give enlightenment,
Nor can happiness without him enter the heart
|None has ever realized God, none at all, without the guru’s guidance,|
declares Guru Nanak (GG, 466)
Using figurative language, it is pointed out that no blind man can find the path without the guru, as nobody can reach the housetop without the stairs and no one can cross the river without a boat. As says Guru Amar Das, he who remains without the Guru’s guidance is the rejected one (GG, 435).
The Spiritual path is not obvious
One needs guidance and help; What is gained if the guru’s compassion and guidance are available is thus elaborated:
|By the holy preceptor’s grace is faith perfected;
By the holy preceptor’s grace is grief cancelled, By the holy preceptor’s grace is suffering annulled; By the holy preceptor’s grace is love of God enjoyed; By the holy preceptor’s grace is union with God attained
The guru cleanses the seeker’s mind of the impurity and brings it to contemplating on the Name. He breaks the shackles of the disciple who turns away from the excitements of the senses. He seeks his welfare and cherishes him as the beloved of his heart. A touch of him erases all blemishes of conduct.
The Guru's leads to spiritual vision
The bard Nall refers to the transforming power of the guru thus in symbolic language:
|From base metal I became gold by hearing the words of the Guru.
Poison was turned into nectar as one uttered the Name revealed by the Guru. From iron a diamond I became by the Guru’s grace. From stone one becomes a diamond in light of the jnana manifested by the Guru. The Guru transformed common timber into fragrant sandalwood and banished all pain and misery. By worshipping the feet of the Guru, the foolish and the evil became angels—the noblest of men
The Guru can leads one to God
God, who is “without form, colour or feature,” is yet self-communicating. “Through the True Word (sada) is He revealed,” as says Guru Nanak (GG, 597).
|Within every heart is hid the Lord;
In all hearts and bodies is his light. By the guru’s instruction Are the adamantine doors opened. Here sabda and guru are juxtaposed. Often they become one word, sabdaguru, identifying sabda with the guru. The sabda guru is the profound teacher; Without the sabda the world remains in perplexity
|Set your mind on the gurshabad
Which is over and above everything else
|Through the sabda one recognizes the adorable Lord
Through the word of the guru (gurvak) Is he imbued with the truth
Shabad (Word) and the Guru are the same
Shabad, ever present, is articulated through the human medium, the guru, so ordained by the Supreme Being. The historical Gurus of the Sikh faith are believed to have uttered the truth vouchsafed to them by God. “As I received the word from the Lord, so do I deliver it,” says Guru Nanak (GG, 722). Guru Arjan: “I know not what to say; I utter only the word I receive from God” (GG, 763). And Guru Ram Das: “Own ye the Sikhs the bani of the guru as truth and truth alone, for the Creator Himself makes him utter it” (GG, 308).
God as primal Guru
God, thus, is the primal Guru of the whole creation. This is how Guru Nanak discloses the identity of his own Guru. One of his compositions, the Sidha Gosti, is in the form of a discourse with a group of yogis. Therein a yogi puts the question to him, “Who is your Guru? Whose disciple are you?” (GG, 942). To which Guru Nanak replies:
|Shabad is my Guru, and the meditating mind the disciple.
By dwelling on Him I remain detached. Nanak, God, the cherisher of the world through the ages, is my Guru
Elsewhere Guru Nanak and his successors affirm that the Satiguru is God.
|The light of the pure Lord, the essence of everything, is all-pervading.
He is the infinite, transcendent Lord, the Supreme God Him Nanak has obtained as his Guru
Accredited is the personality of the bright Guru, God
|Who is brimful of all might.
Nanak, the Guru is the transcendent Lord Master. He, the ever present, is the Guru
The guru is God and God is the Guru!
In the journey on the path of spiritual realisation, for the person on this journey, the difference between God and Guru fades as far as the human journey is concerned; the Guru brings the vision of God into focus and brings the understanding of "His way" - God's way - Dharam as against adharam or unrightoueousness.
According to Sikh belief there is no difference in spirit between such a guru and God. “The guru is God and God is the Guru; there is no distinction between the two” says Guru Ram Das (GG, 442). “God hath placed Himself within the guru, which He explicitly explaineth” (GG, 466). “Acknowledge the Transcendent God and the guru as one “ (GG, 864).
The real personality of a human being is the atman, the physical body is only a temporary dwelling place for the atman which is eternal and is a spark from the Eternal Flame, the Supreme Atman or God. “O my self, you are an embodiment of God’s Light; know your true origin” (GG, 441).
Being encased in the physical frame, this 'atman' (soul) becomes so involved in the temptations of the physical world that it forgets its reality and loses contact with the Flame of its origin, whereas the atman of the Guru remains ever in tune with that Supreme Light from which it has sparked off.
It is thus that God is accepted as residing within the guru. It is in this sense that there is no distinction seen between the guru and God. Guru or satiguru is thus a word with a double meaning in the Guru Granth Sahib. It may refer to God or to His chosen prophet.
Finding the true Guru
The true Guru is easily distinguished. “The true guru is one who has realized the Supreme Being and whose association saves the disciple” (GG, 286). “The true guru is one in whose heart dwells the Name Divine” (GG, 287). “He by meeting whom the mind is filled with bliss is the true guru. He ends the duality of the mind and leads (the disciple) to the ultimate state of realization” (GG, 168).
“Praise, praise be to the true guru who demolishes the fort of dubiety; wondrous, wondrous the true guru who unites the seeker with the Lord” (GG 522). The guru is ordained as such for the liberation of mankind. He transmits the message of God to men and performs acts of grace to save them. The guru is sent by God, but he is not God’s incarnation.
“Singed be the tongue which says that the Lord takes birth” (GG, 1136). He is ajuni (unborn); He is saibhan (self-existent). Highest tribute and adoration are reserved for the guru. Devotion to the guru is deemed to be the quintessential quality of a religious man.
The pain of separation from the guru and the joy of meeting with him find expression in poetry of deep intensity, as in Guru Arjan’s hymn in Rag Majh (GG, 96-97).
Be careful of pandits, pir and false gurus
Guru Nanak was suspicious of human preceptors, pandits, gurus and pirs. They are generally denounced as blind guides, self-styled and traders upon ignorance and superstition. He warns against them:
|Never fall at the feet of one
Who calls himself guru and pir, and goes begging. He who eats what he earns And from his own hands gives some in charity, He alone knows the true way of life
The disciple whose guru is blind will not attain the goal (GG, 58). Taking up this thought the third Guru said:
|The disciples whose guru is blind perform only blind deeds.
They follow their own wayward will, And ever utter the grossest lies
The Guru speaks only of God
When Guru Nanak speaks of his guru or satguru, it is not such teachers that he has in mind. The true guru is the means of the self-revelation of God. He makes the concealed and ineffable God known.
He symbolizes the supreme act of God’s grace in revealing Himself as Truth, as the Name, as the Word. The true guru comes to unite all people of the world and to unite them to the Supreme Being. A false guru creates schisms, divisions and prejudices.
The line of Guruship
The [[Sikh] faith developed under the guidance of ten successive Gurus from 1469 to 1708. Guru Gobind Singh, the Tenth Guru, appointed no personal successor, but bequeathed the guruship to the Holy Book, the Guru Granth Sahib.
The holy Word or shabad had always been referred by the Gurus as well as by their disciples as of Divine origin. The Guru was the revealer of the Word. The Word was identified with the Guru when Guru Gobind Singh proclaimed the Holy Book Guru before he passed away.
Bards Balvand and Satta theorize that of their three aspects—joti, i.e. light, jugati, way or procedure, and kaia, i.e. body—it is only kaia, the body, that changes as succession passed from one historical Guru of the Sikh faith to the next. Joti and jugati remained the same. As sang the bards: “Joti oha jugati sai sahi kaia pheri palatiai” (GG, 966). From their verse emerges this concept of three aspects of the guruship.
Guru is an enlightened soul
God is the source of all light or consciousness. God kindles that light, in the chosen human body, the Guru; in the joti-aspect the Guru is the most enlightened human being, he is in direct communion with God.
He communicates the message of God to mankind. He transmits His light to the world. Without the guru, darkness prevails. Says Guru Nanak, “The light of the guru alone dispels darkness” (GG, 463); “The guru is that lamp which illuminates the three worlds” (GG, 137).
Balvand and Satta in their hymn in the Guru Granth Sahib affirm that the historical Gurus of the Sikhs shared the same joti (light). The joti got transferred to the successor’s body. Thus, right from 1469, the year of the birth of Guru Nanak, to 1708, the year of the passing away of Guru Gobind Singh, it was one continuing joti manifesting itself in the Ten Gurus.
The succession of 'the light'
This awareness of one light acting through the successive Gurus was so permeating among the Sikhs that Mobid Zulfiqar Ardastani (d. 1670) wrote in his Persian work Dabistan-i-Mazahib, “The Sikhs say that when Nanak left his body, he absorbed himself in Guru Angad who was his most devoted disciple, and that Guru Angad was Nanak himself.
After that, at the time of his death, Guru Angad entered into the body of Guru Amar Das. He in the same manner occupied a place in the body of Guru Ram Das who in the same way got united with Guru Arjan. They say that whoever does not acknowledge Guru Arjan to be the very self of Baba Nanak becomes a nonbeliever.”
Afterwards, Nanak was called Amar Das, as one lamp is lit from another. . . The holy Nanak was revered as Angad, Angad was recognized as Amar Das. And Amar Das became Ram Das. . .
When Ram Das was blended with the Divine, he gave the Guruship to Arjan. Arjan appointed Hargobind in his place and Hargobind gave his seat to Har Rai. Har Krishan, his son, then became Guru. After him came Tegh Bahadur.”
The same message and way of life
Balvand and Satta further proclaim that the Gurus indicated the same jugati or the method and way of life. The ministry of Guru Nanak combining joti and jugati, took care of both the worlds, the spiritual and the temporal. It was the ministry of deg (charity), and tegh (power), of miri (temporal authority) and piri (spiritual power).
According to the bard, Nanak founded sovereignty on the firm rock of truth. . . Nanaku raju chalaia sachu kotu satani niv dai (GG, 966). As Nanak transferred the joti (light) to Lahina who became Guru Angad, he unfurled the umbrella over his head—lahane dharionu chhatu siri, i.e. he invested Lahina with the authority to carry on with the practice he had introduced.
The Gurus preached devotion, bhakti or nam (meditation on the Divine Name), recitation of bani, the sacred texts, and kirtan, i.e. singing of the Lord’s glory in sangat or holy assembly. Along with nam, they inculcated the values of kirat, labouring with one’s hands, and vand chhakna, sharing with others the fruit of one’s exertions. The Gurus had carved a clear way for the disciples.
The Guru’s kaia or body was the repository of God’s light. It was the medium for the articulation of sabda, Word Divine, or God’s message. So it was worthy of reverence. The historical Guru was the focal point of the sangat and the living example of truths he had brought to light. He himself lived up to the teachings he imparted to his disciples.
Formation of Khalsa
The sangat was transformed into Khalsa in the time of Guru Gobind Singh who introduced khande di pahul, i.e. baptism of the double-edged steel sword. With the formation of the Khalsa, the concept of the Guru Panth formalized.
By becoming the sixth person to receive amrit at the hands of the Panj Piare, the Five Beloved, who formed the nucleus of the Khalsa Panth, Guru Gobind Singh testified to his own membership of the Panth, and to having merged himself with it and endowed it with the charisma of his own personality.
The bani, always revered by the Sikhs as well as by the Gurus as Word Divine, was however above all. This was something which even the Gurus themselves could not change. It was this superiority which Guru Gobind Singh acknowledged in 1708 when he invested Scripture as Guru.
The Panth survives in the Guru and Khalsa
The idea of the Guru Panth lives on in the Khalsa. But the Khalsa itself could not alter the fundamental tenets of the Sikh faith as enunciated in the bani. The Guru Granth Sahib was, in the presence of the Khalsa, proclaimed Guru.
The finality of the pronouncement remains a cherished truth for the Sikhs and the Holy Book has since been the perpetual authority, spiritual as well as historical, for them. No living person, however holy or revered, can now have for them the title or status of Guru.
For Sikhs the Guru is the teacher, the prophet under direct commission from God—the Ten who have been and the Guru Granth Sahib which is their continuing visible manifestation.
- 1. Sabadarth Sri Guru Granth Sahib. Amritsar, 1959
- 2. Jodh Singh, Bhai, Gurmati Nirnaya. Amritsar, 1932
- 3. Darshan Singh, Guru Granth Bani vich Guru da Sankalap. Patiala, 1976
- 4. Kapur Singh, Parasaraprasna. Amritsar, 1989
- 5. Sher Singh, Philosophy of Sikhism. Amritsar, 1980
- 6. Cole, W. O., The Guru in Sikhism. London, 1982
Above adapted from article By Wazir Singh